The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe and the Minister of State in the ministry, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, have been named in a N2 billion bribery scandal.
This is coming in spite of the anti-corruption posture of the President Mohammadu Buhari-led Federal Government.
A bribery scheme by the two ministers concerning a recent part-payment of N15 billion to contractors owed by the ministry. The contractors executed projects under the fertilizer subsidy programme, Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS), introduced by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan in order to enhance farmers’ access to subsidised fertilizer.
The amount is part of a N56 billion debt owed the contractors by the Federal and state governments participating in the programme but the ministry is in charge of payments to contractors.
All participating states gave an Irrevocable Standing Order (ISO) for their portion (25%) of the Subsidy amount to be deducted directly from their statutory monthly allocation from the federation account as due.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development (FMARD), as the agency in charge of the administration of the program has the responsibility of coordinating, managing and effecting the payment of the subsidy to all participating inputs supplier companies.
The Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS) is a Federal government initiative aimed at subsidising the costs of major agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer and seedlings for farmers, yam tubers and yam plantation, yam tubers and yam plantation based on the GESS policy, the federal and state governments equally contribute the balance of 50 percent being the approved subsidy amount for onward payment to participating inputs (fertilizer) suppliers.
The Farm Inputs Suppliers Association of Nigeria (FUISAN ), is the association that made the programme successful.
But following the release of N350 billion by government for the payment of contractors owed by government as contained in the 2016 budget, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development was allocated funds including N15 billion to effect the part-payment to over 50 contractors owed by the ministry.
Following the release of the money to the ministry, the two ministers called a meeting of all the contractors owed by the ministry in Abuja. At the meeting, Chief Ogbeh confirmed the release of some funds to the ministry including N15 billion being part-payment for work done by the contractors, most of which were carried out in 2014.
The contractors were assured that payment would be made in such a way to cover all the contractors owed by the ministry pending the release of more funds by government. The ministers assured the contractors that they would be paid on “pro-rata” basis. But to the chagrin of the contractors, the ministry expended the N15 billion on only three contractors, one of which was Notore Chemicals PLC, a fertilizer and agro-allied company linked to Chief James Ibori who is currently serving jail time in U.K for corruption.
Investigations showed that the payment was a product of a decision to deduct N2 billion from source and concentrate the payment on only three contractors, who were part of the deal. The three contractors were paid N13 billion leaving in the lurch the rest of the contractors, who were earlier promised payment on pro-rata basis.
A group, Society for Good Governance (SGG), is therefore asking the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Crimes Commission (ICPC) to investigate the payment.
“We are, by this petition, asking the ICPC to carry out a comprehensive investigation into the payment to determine why the ministers and the permanent secretary reneged on the earlier arrangement to pay all the contractors who have been owed for many years now and decided to pay only three contractors.
“We urge you to look into the deal between the two ministers, the permanent secretary and the three contractors that resulted in the payment of N13 billion to them. What happened to the remaining N2 billion. Why renege on the payment of the other contractors?”, the group queried.
A source familiar with the development said the decision to pay only three contractors a whooping N15 billion was curious after the minister had promised to expend the part-payment on all the contractors involved.
“The question on everybody’s lip is why pay only three contractors after the agreement that all the contractors would be captured . These are people who collected bank loans to execute these projects. The initial amount borrowed has not been paid and they are not even talking about the interest that has gone out of the roof after many years”, the source said